Cell-cell channels, viruses, and evolution: via infection, parasitism, and symbiosis toward higher levels of biological complexity

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 Oct;1178:106-19. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04995.x.


Between prokaryotic cells and eukaryotic cells there is dramatic difference in complexity which represents a problem for the current version of the cell theory, as well as for the current version of evolution theory. In the past few decades, the serial endosymbiotic theory of Lynn Margulis has been confirmed. This results in a radical departure from our understanding of living systems: the eukaryotic cell represents de facto"cells-within-cell." Higher order "cells-within-cell" situations are obvious at the eukaryotic cell level in the form of secondary and tertiary endosymbiosis, or in the male and female gametophytes of higher plants. The next challenge of the current version of the cell theory is represented by the fact that the multicellular fungi and plants are, in fact, supracellular assemblies as their cells are not physically separated from each other. Moreover, there are also examples of alliances and mergings between multicellular organisms. Infection, especially the viral one, but also bacterial and fungal infections, followed by symbiosis, is proposed to act as the major force that drives the biological evolution toward higher complexity.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Communication
  • Cellular Structures / metabolism
  • Eukaryotic Cells / cytology
  • Eukaryotic Cells / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Fungi / pathogenicity*
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Plants / parasitology
  • Prokaryotic Cells / cytology
  • Prokaryotic Cells / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Symbiosis / physiology*